Life And Death

Sometimes with narratives in Scripture, we have read them so much, we almost become callous to them. Or at the very least, we think, “I know this already,” so we just sort of read the passage with our minds-half engaged. Yet when this happens, we miss some fresh insights that the Spirit of God would have us understand. We have to remember that “the word of God is living and active” (Hebrews 4:12).

Now I admit, I often find myself drifting off when reading a familiar passage, but I saw something over the past couple of weeks in Genesis that I had not considered before, not in this particular light anyway.

Genesis Three records the Fall of Man, the tragic event when Eve and Adam ate the forbidden fruit, thus bringing sin into the world. But before we dive directly into that account, we need a little background. God had created Adam first, forming him from the dust of the earth, then set him as steward over a beautiful garden called Eden (Genesis 2:7, 8).

In the first description of that garden, there are several aspects pointed out, but my focus is with the vegetation. God had planted “every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:9). Three trees, or groups of trees. The first was for food, the second offered life, and the last…well, that one was off limits.

That was the only command God gave the man. He blessed him with authority over the created world, gave him abundance of delicious food, and had personal fellowship—he only could not eat of that one tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If he did, God swore that he would die (Genesis 2:16, 17). He was  basically given free reign to eat whatever else he wanted, including the tree of life. When Eve was created as a helper for him, we can conclude that she was given the same freedom, for she also received the command.

Now we know how Satan—in the form of a serpent—deceived Eve, leading her to doubt God’s word. He did so very craftily, but that is for another article. It is important to note that two of the three reasons cited for why she chose to eat of the forbidden tree were already descriptions of all the other trees in the garden (Genesis 2:9; 3:6). The third reason was that it “was desirable to make one wise,” but wouldn’t walking and talking directly with God be the way to get wisdom? We would definitely think so, but that is Satan’s ploy—he tempts us to try to get God’s blessings our own way.

But here is what really stands out to me—they didn’t eat of the tree of life. They were given freedom to eat of it whenever they pleased, but Genesis 3:22 shows us that they never availed themselves of that amazing privilege. If they had, they would have lived forever, God says. Instead of life, they chose death. They bought the lie, true, but they made that choice none the less.

As I was reading through Genesis again recently, my mind immediately went to another time when the people of God had this same choice before them. Israel had been brought out of Egypt, had journeyed through the wilderness forty years, and had once again returned to the plains of Moab at Kadesh-barnea. While there, Moses gives a series of closing speeches to the congregation, renewing the covenant and listing the blessings of obedience and the curses of disobedience. As he comes to the close of that section, he boldly pronounces the following—

“See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity; in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments, that you may live and multiply, and that the Lord your God may bless you in the land where you are entering to possess it. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the Lord your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days, that you may live in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them.”

Deuteronomy 30:15, 16, 19, 20

Same choice: life and death. God had shown His love to the people time and time again, beginning all the way back with Abraham, and He had continued to act out of that love down to that very day (Deuteronomy 7:7-9). Now He was calling Israel to return that love and walk in His ways. He was not a cruel God far removed from His creation, but instead, He wanted a personal relationship with them and desired their love in return for His. The Law only came about because of His holiness, because He cannot dwell with sin, but it in no way negates His love. In fact, some even argue the opposite.

When we look at it this way, the decision seems obvious. Without a doubt, Israel should choose the way of life, love the Lord their God, and dwell securely in the land. Yet as we know from the rest of the Old Testament, that was not the choice they always chose. Instead, they chose the glistening fruit of the substitute gods around them time and time again.

But as we consider this, we have to ask ourselves, do we ever make the same choice? Do we choose things that lead to death instead of the abundant life Jesus desires for us? I don’t always mean physical death, for Adam and Eve did not drop dead as soon as they ate the fruit. Instead, I am talking about spiritual death, a break in fellowship with God. This of course happens to unbelievers, but it can happen in some measure even to Christians.

The Scripture is clear, even in the New Testament, that sin disrupts the fellowship we have with God. It with holds blessings He desires to give, it robs us of our joy and peace, and it can even hinder our prayers. For an example of that last part, Peter says that a husband not living with his wife “in an understanding way” will literally “hinder” his prayers (1 Peter 3:7). Ananias and Sapphira were both killed for lying, and even some of the Corinthians died as a result of not dealing with sin before taking the Lord’s Supper (Acts 5:1-10; 1 Corinthians 11:27-30).

Now those are some extreme cases, but they do illustrate just how seriously God takes sin in the lives of His children. He has set before us so many good things, spiritual as well as physical, and it is a slap in His face to choose cheap substitutes the world offers, as enticing as Satan makes them.

Colossians 3:5 illustrates this. The verse says, “Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.” Now look at it this way: immorality and impurity are substitutes for the marriage relationship. Passion takes to an excess the God-given desires we have. “Evil desires” refers to homosexuality, which is an abuse of friendships. And covetousness makes idols out of the gifts God gives. There are other passages similar to this one, but you get the point.

We all have choices before us every day, some we may not even think much about before we make them. But I want to encourage us that God does not treat them so flippantly. Like with Adam, Eve, and ancient Israel, He has set before us the way of life and the way of death. The way of life is to hold fast to Him, to serve Jesus with everything, and to walk in obedience to Scripture in all of life. The way of death is to turn away from the Lord’s love, make ourselves our own god, and give our own pleasures and desires their head. The decision is ours of which path we will take, we must choose life or death. Which one will you choose?

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